Does Training In Carbon Plated Shoes Increase Your Injury Risk?

They make you 4% faster, but do they also screw up your gait?

Carbon plated shoes have been at the forefront of the running community ever since marathon runner Eliud Kipchoge first attempted his sub-two-hour marathon in 2017 in a pair of the famed “super shoes.”

Since then, recreational runners, semi-professionals, and professionals have all flocked to get a piece of the marginal gains pie, with the large shoe companies investing huge sums of money into the technology.

The world of running has been dominated by the famed “super shoe” for many years, but more recently, runners have begun using them for training, too.

In light of this, anecdotal evidence has begun to surface, with many runners reporting negative experiences with the famed carbon fiber running shoes, including discomfort and injuries.

The debate over whether training in carbon-plated shoes increases injury risk is a multifaceted and evolving discussion within the running community.

In this article, we will delve into the conversation surrounding this topic, exploring the up-to-date science, anecdotal evidence, and the practical implications of using carbon plated shoes in running.

In this article, we will look at the following:

  • What Are Carbon Plated Shoes?
  • Do Carbon Plates Shoes Increase Your Injury Risk?
  • How To Avoid Getting Injured In Carbon Plated Shoes

Let’s get into it!

Does Training In Carbon Plated Shoes Increase Your Injury Risk? 1

What are carbon plated Shoes?

Carbon fiber running shoes incorporate a slim carbon fiber plate nestled within the midsole, distinguishing them from conventional running shoes.

This remarkable technology has brought about a revolution in the running sphere, promising superior performance and enhanced running efficiency.

The genesis of carbon fiber running shoes harks back to the Nike Breaking2 Project in 2017, an ambitious quest to breach the formidable two-hour marathon milestone.

During this project, Nike’s design team worked tirelessly to craft the most efficient running shoe. Notably, Eliud Kipchoge, the star athlete of the project, sported prototypes of what would evolve into the iconic Nike Vaporfly, featuring a carbon fiber plate in the midsole.

Kipchoge’s historic marathon run, clocking in at 1:59:40 in 2019, with a global audience in awe, marked the public introduction of the Nike Vaporfly.

Since then, nearly every prominent running shoe manufacturer has unveiled their interpretation of carbon fiber running footwear.

Two runners on the road.

Do They Work?

Carbon fiber plates are engineered to enhance running efficiency, permitting runners to sustain higher speeds for extended durations with reduced fatigue.

Research indicates substantial benefits, with the Nike Vaporfly, for instance, enhancing running economy by more than 4%.

These shoes alter elements such as ground contact time, stride length, plantar flexion velocity, and center of mass vertical oscillation.

By altering the job of important muscles, like the gastrocnemius and soleus, carbon fiber plates diminish the energy cost of running.

They amplify the shoe’s bending stiffness, shifting the center of pressure towards the forefoot, resulting in a more robust push-off with reduced stress on calf muscles.

Two people running.

Do Carbon Plates Shoes Increase Your Injury Risk?

The impact of carbon plated shoes on injury risk remains a topic of debate. Is it bad to train in carbon-plated shoes?

Some studies suggest that the altered running mechanics and increased forces on the body might lead to injuries, while others argue that the shoes may actually help reduce injury risk by improving running economy.

Anecdotal evidence is a key element in this debate, offering insights beyond what studies have yet to show or disprove. However, caution is necessary, as individual accounts are subjective and influenced by various factors.

While the performance benefits are substantial, the association of this footwear with injuries has become a clinical point of contention, albeit not extensively documented in existing literature.

Formal studies remain vital for a comprehensive understanding of the safety and efficacy of carbon plated shoes.

Let’s break it down into a few distinct sections:

A track race.

#1: Biomechanical Differences

When runners make the switch to carbon-plated shoes, they often exhibit observable changes in their movement patterns. This phenomenon is especially prevalent among recreational runners, where gait alterations are more likely to occur.

The transition to new footwear, particularly carbon-plated running shoes, introduces potential physiological risks for runners. These risks are rooted in the adjustments made to biomechanics and the redistribution of forces within the body.

These adjustments result in the activation of different muscle groups and the application of forces in distinct ways across the runner’s body.

As a consequence, runners may experience an increase in delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) as their bodies adapt to these biomechanical changes.

In light of these adjustments, it is vital for runners to pay close attention to how their bodies react to the new footwear. Any signs of discomfort, pain, or unusual sensations in specific areas should not be disregarded, as they may indicate potential injury risks.

Taking swift action to address these warning signs is essential. Runners should be prepared to make necessary modifications to their training regimen or even consider reverting to their previous shoes if it becomes evident that their well-being is at risk.

Two people running over a bridge.

#2: Stack Height And Higher Levels Of Instability

Stack height refers to the distance between the foot and the ground. Elevated stack height, combined with a curved carbon fiber plate, engenders a see-saw effect that optimizes energy return during each stride.

Innovations in carbon fiber running shoes encompass the utilization of lightweight PEBAX foam, enabling a substantial upsurge in stack height without an increase in weight.

In carbon plated shoes, this increased stack height serves several purposes, including improving energy return, cushioning, and overall running economy. However, it can also introduce certain biomechanical changes that may carry an increased risk of injury.

The main risk is an increase in ankle Injuries. The combination of thicker midsoles and the carbon plate’s unique properties can potentially lead to a higher center of gravity for the foot.

This shift in the center of gravity may make the ankle more susceptible to rolling or spraining during running. The increased height, combined with the added stiffness of the plate, can disrupt the foot’s natural stability and balance, increasing the risk of ankle injuries.

People running in a road race.

#3: Navicular Stress Fractures

The use of carbon plated shoes introduces unique biomechanical demands on runners, influencing cadence, stride, ground reaction forces, and joint mechanics.

These alterations in foot and ankle mechanics may contribute to the risk of bone stress injuries.

A recent study published in Sports Medicine analyzed five instances of elite athletes developing navicular bone stress injuries following the use of carbon-plated footwear.

The navicular bone, situated on the inner side of the foot near the ankle, is one of the tarsal bones. In each case examined in the study, the athletes experienced pain while running, either during or after using carbon fiber-plated shoes exclusively.

In particular, their design features, including the longitudinal bending stiffness of the carbon plate and its curved shape, can affect the behavior of the navicular bone.

The longitudinal bending stiffness, which is a key feature of carbon plate, may reduce the dorsiflexion of the metatarsophalangeal joints during take-off, consequently altering the distribution of energy storage and release.

This alteration in energy dynamics can place additional stress on the navicular bone, potentially contributing to the development of navicular bone stress injuries.

A person running on a road.

How To Avoid Getting Injured In Carbon Plated Shoes

So, is it bad to train in carbon-plated shoes? Not necessarily. If you are looking to incorporate carbon plated shoes into your training regimen, then do it sensibly with a carefully structured transition plan.

This gradual integration not only maximizes performance but also minimizes the risk of pain or injury, allowing the muscles and skeletal structures to adapt.

The main takeaway is not to throw on some new shoes that you’ve never worn before, shoes that cause a distinct biomechanical change, and continue your training volume and intensity as if nothing has changed.

Respect that the body needs time to adjust.

Below, I will detail a couple of steps that I’d recommend when working with a client:

  1. Initial Assessment: Start by assessing your current running habits, including your typical mileage, running surfaces, and preferred shoes. This evaluation serves as a baseline for your transition plan.
  2. Choose the Right Model: Select a carbon plated running shoe that suits your running style, foot shape, and specific needs. Consult with a running specialist or shoe expert for guidance if necessary. Ensure that the shoe fits well and is comfy!
  3. Familiarization Phase: During the initial introduction, wear your carbon-plated shoes for shorter, low-intensity runs. These runs should be incorporated into your regular training schedule once or twice a week. The goal here is to allow your body to become accustomed to the new shoes without undue stress.
  4. Gradual Mileage Increase: Over the next few weeks, progressively increase the mileage run in your carbon plated shoes. This isn’t an exact science; use how your body feels to gauge how well it is adapting. Try not to increase the volume run in carbon shoes by more than 10% in any given week.
  5. Alternate Footwear: Continue to incorporate your previous running shoes into your routine for the majority of your runs. This balanced approach helps prevent overuse and allows your body to adapt at a reasonable pace.
  6. Patience and Adaptation: The process of adapting to carbon-plated shoes takes time. Be patient and consistent in your approach. Your muscles, joints, and bones will gradually strengthen and become more resilient.
A runner crossing the finish line.

Final Thoughts

The introduction of carbon-plated shoes into your training routine can enhance performance, but that performance increase may be better saved for race day.

Until more studies are published, it is hard to say whether training in carbon plated shoes increases injury risk.

However, we do know that a sudden switch to carbon plated shoes without a gradual introduction will put the body at risk of injury. Respecting the body’s need to adapt is crucial.

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Ben is a qualified Personal Trainer and Sports Massage Therapist with a particular interest in running performance and injury. He has spent the last 9 years working with runners at his clinic in Brighton. Ben is a keen runner and avid cyclist. Evenly splitting his time between trail running, road biking, and MTB.

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